New Jersey recognizes a legal claim for publication of private facts. For the most part, the law in New Jersey is similar to that described in the general page on publication of private facts. See that page for a full discussion of the elements of and defenses to a private facts claim. This page addresses only those aspects of New Jersey law that are different from the general description.
Elements of a Private Facts Claim
In New Jersey, the elements of a publication of private facts claim are: (1) the matter or matters revealed were actually private; (2) dissemination of such facts would be offensive to a reasonable person; and (3) there is no legitimate public interest in being apprised of the facts publicized.
New Jersey law does not impose liability for publication of factually accurate information that is "newsworthy" or of legitimate public concern. Courts applying New Jersey law have found the following things, among others, to be of legitimate public concern (i.e., newsworthy):
- a book chapter describing a crime that took place more than ten years previously, in a case brought by victims of the crime;
- a student newspaper article about a University investigation of misconduct on the part of University staff, including the results of the investigation;
- a newspaper article about the sale of a large home that was a local historic landmark, including information about the sale price, the number of rooms, and the owner's occupation; and
- a radio talk show host's disclosure that the plaintiff, a "media monitor," had been in a mental institution, when the plaintiff had engaged in an ongoing and heated public debate with the talk show host about the propriety of the host's views.
For additional information and discussion of New Jersey cases, see the Reporters Committee's Photographers' Guide to Privacy: New Jersey.
Relying on Public Records
In New Jersey, you generally cannot be held liable for publishing truthful information gathered from "public records." Not all government records will qualify as "public records," and the extent of the privilege is not clear. So far, New Jersey courts have applied this privilege to information obtained from court records (and from proceedings in open court), as well as to a claim for disability benefits filed with an administrative agency. In any event, information gathered from any kind of government record that is open to public inspection is unlikely to be a private fact because it is already exposed to the public eye.
New Jersey recognizes consent as a defense to a publication of private facts claim. New Jersey courts may recognize verbal or implied consent, but it is advisable to get it in writing whenever possible. If getting written consent is not practical, you should record try to record verbal consent using an audio or video recording device. The age of majority in New Jersey is eighteen; if you interview or photograph someone under the age of eighteen, you should seek consent from the subject's parent(s). See the general description for a more detailed discussion of release forms.